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17-Year-Old Rabeya Wants To Be A Doctor, But Will She Get A Chance To Chase Her Dream?

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This post is a part of Back To School, a global movement to ensure that access to education for girls in India does not suffer post COVID-19. Click here to find out more.

Jaynagar is 2 hours by road from Kolkata. For girls living here, secondary education is a far-fetched dream. They are married off before they reach Class 8, which for their parents means one less mouth to feed and for their parents-in-law and husband means one more pair of hands to work. As per a Magic Bus survey conducted across India, women are more informally educated than men (27% when compared to 14% men).

Rabeya Gayen is one of the many young girls who live in Jaynagar. She is a 17-year-old ambitious girl who, despite many challenges, scored 86% in Class 10. She feels that she could have done much better.

She is the eldest among her siblings, and her father is an agricultural labourer with an earning of ₹250 a day. These days, with COVID-19, he barely gets work. Her younger brother, who is 13, helps out her father in the fields. Her brother and sister both used to go to school too, but with schools shut due to lockdown, they stay at home.

Rabeya teaches her younger siblings as they don’t have a smartphone to access any online learning videos. The survey also reported a noticeable difficulty in accessing education virtually: 34% of respondents don’t own a mobile phone, affecting accessibility to study resources. Parents who do own a mobile phone reported they could give their phone to a child for about 6 hours a week.

Rabeya with her family

Rabeya used to go to work with her mother too. They would do odd jobs and get a small income in return. Before COVID-19 too, the family never had enough money to afford books or tuitions.

Without Magic Bus’ support, I wouldn’t have been able to score 86%. Tata Motors Finance supported Magic Bus scholarship helped me enrol in private tuition classes to better my preparation. Menrolus’ young leaders helped me plan my day ahead. Because I had to work and also help my mother with household chores, I mostly studied during the nights. With the scholarship money, I could buy a few books and notebooks to study,” said Rabeya.

Uddan, a project conceived by Tata Motors Finance and Magic Bus, seeks to empower adolescent girls like Rabeya aged 11 to 17 who reside in various marginalised communities in Jaynagar and other states across India. The intervention ensures the young girls complete secondary school and transition successfully to livelihoods. In doing so, it staves off destabilisers such as child labour, child marriage and gender discrimination, to name a few.

A midline study was conducted to understand the impact of the intervention; it reveals some very optimistic data. School Regularity at baseline was 73% (consistent with the national average). At midline, it was reportedly 86.9%. Of those who do not attend school regularly, menstrual pain was found to be a significant reason.

Aspirations to higher education have gone up from 21.6% to 42.1% with respondents saying they want to complete their graduation. Learning enhancement classes have helped some girls do much better academically. In a Math and Language test administered by an expert group of academics, improvement across grades in both is about 20%.

The pandemic has negatively impacted more girls than boys. We are seeing a higher proportion of girls (almost 47%) reported being involved in household chores during the lockdown as compared to boys (40%). We may therefore observe that girls who have now been seen at home supporting household chores may not find their way back to school as households look for additional working hands.

Therefore continuous engagement with young girls of Jaynagar is critical to ensure all of them get back to school and continue learning. For many, like Rabeya, they understand the challenges that come forth.

Rabeya Molla, 17 years old, South 24 Praganas, West Bengal

Rabeya wants to opt for science in higher secondary, but the school that offers the subject is 15 kms away, and without a stable income, she doesn’t know how she would be able to enrol there. Only if she gets some scholarship or her father starts getting regular work, she can join school again.

She wants to be a doctor someday. The fact that they don’t have any doctors in her village has instigated her to become one. She is ready to work hard to get a degree and become a doctor one day. But she is apprehensive if she will ever get a chance to pursue her dreams.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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